Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Test Of Time

I've been thinking quite a bit about the classics lately. What are the qualities that make them pass the test of time? What is so special about them?

Obviously classics are well written. They have a complete sense of the time and place. They reflect the society as it is at the time they were written. The observations are complete. The descriptions are accurate. The characterizations are true to human nature and psychologically make sense. The plots are unique and intriguing. Sometimes the concepts introduced are extremely shocking and outrageous. I guess, at least they were when they were first published. I expect they created quite a bit of a stir and talk (and maybe banned, tried to be banned, or refused to be published). They stand out among all the other books and were read widely when they were published. By the time they become classics, they become more of a cliche, a norm, a sedate expression. This basically caused by so many others emulating, repeating, and borrowing ideas and themes from them.

Among all the books that are written, they have what it takes to survive, to be read again and again by generations and still have something people can relate to and something they can take from it. Their truth is universal, not just for the moment and place they were written, but in general applicable to the whole of humanity regardless of time.

Whenever I buy a new book I can't help but wonder, will this one be the classic of the future, say maybe in another hundred years or so. Will our children and their children have a chance to see this book and read and enjoy it as much as we are enjoying it. What will it tell them about us, about our life, about our norms, about our conditions, our values, our knowledge?

Who do I think will make it. Well, Harry Potter's probably, I can see a Stephen King novel or two to make it. Maybe some Nora Roberts. At least I hope some will make it. She is a favorite of mine as she is of many. I think Ann Rice's Interview With The Vampire will be there. If nothing simply because it turned the whole vampire literature up side down taking it from simple horror and pushing it towards the romance genre.

There are some I wish would be there but won't be and some I hope will disappear quickly and will remain. Tough to predict the future.

But in any case, I ask you, who do you think will manage this? Who is writing the classics of the future now? Which book is it? Any ideas? I would love to hear them. :D

AC Read

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Highly Recommended

I am always a bit apprehensive when I make book recommendations. No, it does not stop me :D

Why would anyone worry about the book recommendations they make? Well, simply because people have different tastes and a lot of the time those tastes do not coincide. Which means the book you adore is a total bore to someone else and a complete utter shock to someone else's sensibilities.

Over the years I have gotton some book recommendations that made an impression on me. One was because it was so spot on. It came from my mother. She is an avid reader. She gave me a copy of The End Of Eternity by Isaac Asimov. Now mind you my mother is not a science fiction fan. She reads a lot of fiction, but not much of science fiction. As I recall she had just finished this book and was not at all that enamoured with it. But she taught it would suit my tastes. Well I was a bit dubious about the recommendation. Considering the circumstances, who could blame me. I had neither read an Asimov book before that nor science fiction novel. I had read some steampunk tough and liked them fine enough. The very beginning of the book was so hard for me to get into. But once I got into the story, wow, it blew my mind away. The sheer imagination of what we know of time has been warped into something so strange and different. But not only that the story also was an amazing mystery and a great adventure along with some romance as i recall wrapped in a page turner. By the time I finished the book I was an Asimov fan. I read many of his books since then and I am afraid starting a genre with the best writer ever in that genre completely spoiled me. I have read other sci-fi writers since, but none compares to Asimov for me.

I had one other such good book recommendation. Unfortunately at the time I did not realize it. It was made to me by my first love. Yes, that is harp music you are hearing in the background :P And what did my big-brown-eyed hottie recommend me (yes, he was a total hottie with bu... Sorry, I get a little distracted when he is mentioned.)? The Three Musketeers. Yes, I know. That's what I thought at the time too. Boys. He was 17 after all. So it seemed excusable that he would recommend something that is just bunch of guys battling with swords. Or so I thought. Well, being young and stupid (and not just because I was totally in love) I promised him I would read and of course never did. Well I have to say years later (won't say how many) I still haven't read The Three Musketeers but I did read another classic novel by Alexandre Dumas which is just as famous and beloved and has probably a similar reputation of being not much more than a glorified comic book story that would appeal to only young men. Boy, was I wrong. I read The Count of Monte Cristo.

When I was searching for a copy of The Count Of Monte Cristo to read, I did a bit of research and came to the conclusion if you want to read this book there is only one version you can buy and have the original story written by Dumas, an unabridged version published recently that has a modern translation done by Robin Buss. Why? Because the story originally had been translated when it was originally written, that is the 1800's, in a haphazard way to take the story to English audience that was creating all the buzz in France. The English translators trying to preserve the sensibilities of the English people, did quite a bit of censure in the translation as well as to -I guess- save time from the translation of the high volume of work, to the extent the number of villains in the story went down from 3-4 people down to 1. That is not just a little censure but a major rewrite. They took out all the interesting tidbits (although by today's standards are not so shocking, probably shocked the daylights out of the translators back then) and turned it into just a simple story about a prison escape and revenge.

Reading the book that was originally written (no, not in French. Unfortunately I don't know the language) I have seen the story I thought I knew in a completely different light. This was utterly different tale. Yes it is the same man, yes there is a prison escape, yes there are revenge plans and conduct. But it is so much more. And no amount of watching TV series based on the novel or movies would do it justice. It needs to be read. And yes I do recommend that you do.

I may not have read the book that was originally recommended, but I did read from the same writer and now I am sure I would read The Three Musketeers too and enjoy it as much as I did The Count of Monte Cristo. And in the avid encouragement of that cutie pie who recommended it I have found true agreement of tastes.

Now with Knut Hamsun's Hunger, I did not start out with a recommendation. I picked it up in our family library (as I always did back in those days) and the more I read the more the protagonist started to annoy me. OK the guy was hungry, but one bad thing after another just started to get on my nerves. So I ended up with the book tucked in under my pillow for almost a year. Thank goodness it wasn't a hardcover or it would have poked my head nightly (just want to mention I don't tuck books under my pillow anymore. Haven't done that in years :) ). If you've seen the book, it is not so long a story. One day my sister saw it when the pillow was moved and asked if I was still reading it. I said "no" and explained why not, stated I was seriously considering not finish reading it. She was so insistent that I should read the book, finish it and I would be fine with the end of it, that I went back to the torturous endeavour (as was my perception at the time. I may have been a bit young to appreciate the books contents). Well it turned out that I did love the ending of the book and it completely redeemed itself in my eyes. I am so glad my sister caught me and forced me. Who would have thought.

I have one last book recommendation to talk about, then we wrap this up. It is a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It was pretty popular a few years back. Stayed at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for quite a few weeks. I had it recommended to me a couple of years before that (time is a bit fuzzy but it was definitely quite a bit before it became popular in US). The person who made the recommendation is an acquaintance, a friend of sorts (tough to really describe that relationship actually, but I guess this would be close enough. Not that it is all that significant.) He said he does not read many books but this was one he really enjoyed and made a gushing recommendation pretty similar to the one I got from the brown-eyed hottie years earlier.

Well of course I bought and read the book. But it was the longest book I have ever read. How many pages is not the issue here. It was only 190 pages or so, but could have been thousands for all I was concerned. It dragged on for me. I considered ditching it and not reading it to the end many, many times. The only reason I stuck it out was because of my experience with the Hamsun book I mentioned above. I kept waiting for it to redeem itself at the end. And alas it did not. But what can be expected from a book where the writer does not care enough about the characters to even name them properly (calling them "the boy" "the girl" "the English Man"). I don't know if Coelho was going for some mystique, antiquated story telling technique to make it look like an old story or something, it just didn't work. Plus whenever the writer has an obvious agenda in writing a story and is made extremely obvious (cautionary tale or tale with a message), it just backfires on me. I like when writers are more subtle in expressing their views. I don't mind being taken to the water but don't like being forced to drink. OMG I just called myself a horse. :P But you get my point.

To cap it, people can highly recommend a book and may manage to match your taste. So you can read a very exciting enjoyable book. Or they may recommend a book and may miss your taste completely. And you end up with a dud you dislike. They may recommend a book without liking the book themselves and simply because they know you and your taste (and hence be successful in the recommendation), or they may force you despite yourself with their recommendation (what they liked) and be right about it. At the end they are just recommendations, some would work for you and some won't. My suggestion is to listen and read those recommendations, but never let them prejudice you against a book. I'd say read it yourself and make your own decision as to whether you like it or not. After all no one can force you to complete the reading (unless it's my sister :P) and there is no rule that says you need to read it a second time or even keep it.

I was going to end the post on that note but what would be a discussion about recommendations if I didn't make some myself, so I would like to say: yes, do read The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, do read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, pere but only the modern translation done by Robin Buss and the unabridged version, do read Hunger by Knut Hamsun, and definitely don't waste any money on The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Use the money to buy a copy of Mark Of The Demon by Diana Rowland (preferably from me :D). At least it is entertaining, has a nice mystery set up and solved, some action, lots of imagination, a strong female protagonist (which is named) and great delivery of all of that in masterful writing. JMHO

AC Read

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines Day Special

As you may have noticed today is Valentine's Day and I thought it would be fun to write about something that relates.

I've been thinking about what the most romantic book I've read is. (I think I just caused some poor English teacher out there a stroke with that last sentence. :P) Over the years I read a few, :D so it was not such a easy task to just pick one. And why should I. Many of those books were romantic, and some left quite a lot to be desired for. Since my memory isn't strongest I chose books that actually remained with me.

The most romantic gesture I read in a book was at the end of One Summer by Nora Roberts (one of the books that is part of Summer Pleasures in the photo on the left). Well if I talk about what it was it might be a spoiler for those who have not the book. It is at the very end. I always hate reading spoilers and would not want to do that to anyone else. So let's just say he gives her something, and it is the most unusual thing to give, and if you read the whole story you will see that it is extremely a thoughful gift and extremely meaningful for the two characters involved. It shows how well he knows her. And isn't that what all people really want in a close relationship to be known who they are deep inside, to have that intimate understanding. This book really is Nora Roberts at her best. The whole book is full of incredible imagery (descriptions of photos) to the extent you feel like you are on a trip with the characters yourself. And then at the very end this thing comes up. :D Wow! I would definitely recommend for anyone who likes romance novels to read this book if they haven't yet.

Now to talk about the most romantic love scene I read in a book. Sorry, I won't be sharing details, but give you an idea as to why it was so. It is in a book called The Scent Of Shadows (The First Sign Of The Zodiac) written by Vicki Pettersson (seen on the right). Now this book is not in a genre that makes you immediately think you might find a very romantic scene in it. It is a fantasy novel. More properly it is an urban fantasy novel. If I am correct this is Pettersson's debut novel (but don't quote me on that). Extremely well written. The scene I am refering to is close to the beginning of the book. And the reason it made such impression on me is the oozing sensuality that came with the scene. Things were written in a slower, softer pace with a gradual build up and very suitably so because it was a good bye of sorts. Quite heart breaking too. And yes, romance can mean broken hearts. In my opinion that does not retract from the sense of connection which is a main requirement of romance. By the way the whole series is wonderful. We get more of Pettersson's crafty sensual scenes later in the series among other things. I look forward to each book that comes out.

As to what novel I thought had the best romantic story, it is amazingly a Stephen King novel called Wizard and Glass. Yes, you read that right. It is a Stephen King novel. It is part of King's Dark Tower series, which is King's uber duber series that references and pulls together a majority of his books into it. It spans King's writing carrier and has recently been concluded after his accident. You can literally see the change in Kings work as he evolves as a writer. But that's a whole different story.

I think the generality of the Dark Tower series can only be classified as horror, but don't let that scare you. :P This is not some bitter outlash of a lonely person on a Valentine's Day guiding you astray. Wizard and Glass really is the most romantic story I ever read. To be able to get the actual background on it, I think it is important that the whole series is read up to that novel at least (you don't necessarily need to read all the books that were referenced. I did and did not regretted doing it. But it is not a must.) The first 3 books of the series introduces us to Roland, the last of the gunslingers, and in Wizard and Glass we see him in his youth and his falling in love with Susan Delgado. It shows the shyness, the intrigue, the innocence, the passion, the bravery, and many more qualities that sum up romance in exquisite form.

I hope you'll read these books and enjoy them just as much as I did.

And Happy Valentine's Day to all. :D

AC Read

Friday, February 5, 2010

Long Time, No See

It has been a long time since I posted anything on my blog. I keep meaning to write something but time just seems to flow and whittle. In my mind I just posted something yesterday. But the post dates don't lie.

So here we are and I decided to at least say a hello. :)

As I am looking at my previous post I am thinking they look a little dull. What this blog probably needs is to have a more personal feel to it. So that is what I will try to do from now on.

Well now, where to start?...

AC Read